Free Will, Determinism, and The Big Bang
Events occur in time, but there is no time except that which has been produced by the Big Bang.
It makes no difference whether the Big Bang is the only beginning of the only universe or just the beginning of one of many universes, either way it doesn’t explain the beginning of existence.
Some say that everything following the Big Bang is random, not designed, but why is ‘designed’ even an option? If that word means anything, and anything has ever been designed by anything, then what difference does it make whether that capacity of intention came early on in the universe or more recently? How do we know the difference between what we design and what is random?
How do we know that randomness even exists? We can’t generate true randomness computationally, we can only grab onto some pattern that seems nearly random by some arbitrary duration of measurement and say that it is good enough. Random is a concept, and the difference between random and intentional may ultimately a matter of perspective. Some interesting possibilities arise when we consider the observation that the more something seems intentional, the more it is ‘like me’ and the more unlike me something appears, the more it seems mechanistic. In a way that is similar to how any object appears as a dot or smudge if it is too small or distant for us to see, the notion that perceptual relativity dictates the quality of intention and unintention is a provocative hypothesis of MSR.
Random events cannot follow a series or have results. That doesn’t mean that there has to be an entity making everything happen, but it suggests that the universe is a phenomena of appearance, and part of appearance is oscillation between intentional and unintentional attributes. The universe speaks in both entropy and significance. Randomness doesn’t do anything, can’t be anywhere or feel anything. Randomness is an abstraction derived from an expectation of the contrary. By random, all we mean is that it lacks pattern and intent – both of which must be implicitly present before they can be hypothetically absent. There is sense and there is non-sense, order and dis-order, it is not non-randomness and dis-chaos.
A Theoretical Double Standard
Many people believe that physical law excludes the possibility of free will because of strong causal closure. By this, what is meant is that there is no room in physics for any force that causes a physical effect that has not been accounted for, Whether or not this is actually true or not is questionable in the first place. The sudden addition of dark matter and dark energy in the 1990s, which together must account for 95.1% of mass-energy of the universe, doesn’t seem to have encountered nearly as much resistance from the scientific community than conscious intention has. Even if it were the case, however, and the typing and reading of these words will be someday explained by purely neurochemical mechanisms, the question of why the feeling of intention exists, and how it can be produced will remain unanswered.
My free will demands that your free will admit that there is no free will.
In all of the contemporary debates on free will there seems to be a blind spot, in which free will does not exist, except where it concerns the application of the results of scientific experiments. There is always a call for the educated and enlightened to voluntarily change their own minds, to be persuaded by the argument of their own free will. The hypocrisy is hard to overlook once you see it. It seems that the anti-free will assertion makes an exception for people who are ‘right’. Being right seems to give us a right to have opinions which others cannot, due to their enslavement to physical causes.
An issue which often comes up in free will debates is how our stance on free will impacts criminal prosecution. Again, the blind spot of the anti-free will philosopher projects that while criminals may not be held liable for their actions because their neurology is to blame, then we can’t allow society to take credit or blame for its system of justice either. If guilt or innocence is irrational, then believing that we can modify our own attitudes toward guilt and innocence must also be irrational. What seems more irrational is to codify law into a mechanistic formula which diminishes our capacity for thought and feeling in consideration of the fate of others (or others considering our fate).
Another pillar of the anti-free will position is that it must be an all-or-nothing phenomenon. This seems to be more of a hasty generalization than an honest look at the phenomena. In a more tolerant analysis, it should be clear that free will doesn’t have to be absolutely free. The fact that our conscious mind thinks that it was presented with certain options still requires that we choose freely from among those options. It’s true that we are always, in a sense, only able to choose what our mind thinks is the ‘best’ option (even if that choice is based on bad advice from our stomach or emotions), but still there is an intentional participation which cannot be explained by statistical functions. No matter how constrained we are by the rules of the road, our car, the limits of our driving skill, etc, there is still a difference between driving and being asleep at the wheel, or between driving and being forced to drive somewhere at gunpoint. We should not look only at how our freedom seems to vanish upon thorough inspection, we must also look at how it appears in the first place – unbidden and self-evident. Look at the universal appeal of freedom and the universal disparagement of that which is unfeeling, robotic, and mechanistic.
One thing that is seldom mentioned in these endless debates, is creativity. Were the Egyptians destined to build pyramids and not megalithic circles? Was it inevitable that the Star Spangled Banner was written in reference to the United States? Did deterministic processes have no choice but to create the illusion of free will? Why?
The work of Benjamin Libet is frequently (compulsively?) cited as well, work which even Libet himself later made clear did not show that free will didn’t exist. The fact that a neurological signal can be detected before the various parts of us (the self who makes the decision, the self who knows they make the decision, the self who reports that they make the decision) can arrive at a consensus does not mean that the initial impulse doesn’t correspond to conscious experience. There is also the matter of focusing on repetitive, reflex actions which minimize free will and maximize predictive expectation. These kinds of experiments are like proving that chefs lack imagination by studying the fry cooks at McDonalds.
Since physics and neuroscience has no theory at all as to the origin or utility of consciousness, we cannot give inanimate instruments the benefit of the doubt when it comes to our subjectivity. Because we are a single zygote which has reproduced itself, in some sense, every cell in our body is ‘us’ just as much as any organ or process in our body. We are complex, but not in the way that a machine is complex. We are not assembled from specialized parts, we are a single whole, divided into relative specialization. Just because every part of us doesn’t know what every other part of us is doing at all times, doesn’t mean that it isn’t all ‘us’ doing it
If the perceptual relativity hypothesis is correct, and pansensitivity is the engine of both physics and subjectivity, then cause itself is relativistic. Intention is real and primitively creative in the first person, and unreal/recombinant-derivative in the third person…but third person is only real because there is a first person participant present.